Bill C-293 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants)
This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.
Roxanne James Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill.
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to allow the Commissioner to prohibit an offender from submitting any further complaint or grievance, except by leave of the Commissioner, when the offender has persistently filed complaints or grievances that are vexatious, frivolous or not made in good faith.
- Sept. 26, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
- June 13, 2012 Passed That Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
- March 7, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 20th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON
moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants). This important piece of legislation was brought forward to help the Correctional Service of Canada meet its legal obligation to fairly and expeditiously resolve offender grievances.
I am gratified to see so much support for my legislation from so many members in the House and in committee. The changes this bill would bring to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would help ensure the complaint and grievance process in the federal penitentiaries is fair and, most importantly, accessible to all offenders, not just a select few who choose to clog up the system with frivolous complaints. Essentially this bill would help ensure that the complaint and grievance process functions as it was originally intended to.
It is clear to me and to so many hon. members in this House that these changes are far long overdue, and this is why I introduced this particular piece of legislation. As I indicated, Bill C-293 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or CCRA. Within the CCRA, we find sections 90 and 91, which are the subject of the proposed legislation I have put forward, which is before us today in the House. These sections ensure that all offenders have access to a fair and expeditious grievance system which they can use without fear of negative consequences. This system is not only the law, but it also has many long-term benefits.
In his committee appearance, Mr. Jay Pyke, warden of Kingston Penitentiary spoke of four specific benefits of this process. He said:
First, it provides offenders with a means of redress when they feel they've been treated unfairly.... Secondly, it contributes to institutional safety through the early identification and resolution of problems....Thirdly, it contributes to offender accountability by encouraging offenders to resolve problems through an appropriate means. Finally, the process ensures that CSC's decisions affecting offenders comply with the rule of law.
I want to point out that the majority of offenders using the grievance system are in fact submitting complaints in good faith related to situations affecting their life, liberty or safety of the person, which of course is what the process was originally intended for.
When used properly, this system ensures that offenders are treated fairly and are given a proper way to deal with their grievances. Unfortunately, there are those offenders who choose to abuse the system, submitting complaint after complaint in order to harass a staff member or merely to fill their days. In some cases it has become somewhat of a hobby or even a game.
All of us in the House have heard the stories about the ice cream being too cold, the eggs or potatoes being too small, or the light bulb being too bright. Not only is this an enormous waste of staff time and resources, but it also clogs up the system and negatively impacts those offenders who must wait longer for decisions on legitimate complaints. This is unfair. It is very clear that changes are needed. Bill C-293 aims to do just that. This bill was developed to put a stop to the actions of offenders who purposely exploit the grievance system at the cost of the rest of the offenders in federal custody, not to mention the cost to the Canadian taxpayer.
As we have heard, there is a small group of offenders across the federal correctional system who submit a high volume of frivolous and vexatious grievances. I would refer again to the committee testimony of Mr. Pyke, warden of the Kingston Penitentiary, who said that last year three offenders were responsible for 7% of the 501 grievances and complaints submitted at just one institution. Of course, this would be acceptable if these complaints had any merit, but in fact, as committee members heard, most of these complaints, 86 in total from these three offenders, were merely attempts to draw negative or unwanted attention to a staff member they did not like or a rule that they simply did not agree with.
According to Mr. Pyke, of the 86 grievances submitted by these three offenders, 81 were denied on the grounds that they lacked merit. In fact, only two grievances were upheld as having merit, and the remaining three were upheld in part because of Correctional Service of Canada's untimely response to the complaints, delays which ironically would have been reduced through the passing of this legislation. This is just three inmates in one institution for one year.
Hon. members can well imagine the impact on resources, time and energy if we multiply this across our entire federal correctional system. That is why it is so important that we move ahead with Bill C-293 without any further delay. In fact, Bill C-293 would expand the language within sections 90 and 91 to provide Correctional Service of Canada with a more effective grievance and complaint process, a system that would impose consequences on offenders who submit a high volume of frivolous and vexatious complaints.
I would like to take a moment to thank all of the committee members for their thoughtful review of the legislation and for their support of some important amendments that were introduced in committee to further strengthen my bill. I believe that these amendments will ultimately help ensure that this legislation would truly meet its goal of ending the troubling trend of a small group of inmates abusing the grievance system. These amendments will ensure that this bill would achieve its intended objective in a manner that is consistent with the remainder of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and also the corrections and conditional release regulations.
If we look closer at the amended legislation, we see that it consists of three clear provisions that lead to this worthy goal. First and foremost, the commissioner would have the authority to prohibit offenders who submit a high number of vexatious and frivolous complaints from submitting any further complaint or grievance unless a vexatious complainant designation is lifted. This is in legislation for the very first time. In other words, the commissioner would have the final say on whether or not a new grievance or complaint is heard. Of course, the commissioner would allow an offender's complaint or grievance to be heard if it was deemed that the issue being grieved affects the offender's life, liberty or security of that person. I want to make that perfectly clear.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of the grievance system is that it encourages pro-social behaviour in offenders. It is certainly not the intent of this bill to slap a vexatious complainant label on any offender and then close the door forever on any hope that the designation would be overturned. That is why the second provision within Bill C-293 states that the commissioner would undertake a regular review of all offenders who have received a prohibition order from a vexatious complainant designation.
As originally drafted, the bill required the commissioner of CSC to review the vexatious complainant designation every six months, and then to provide the offender with written reasons for a decision to maintain or lift that designation. Bill C-293 was amended at committee to indicate that this review would take place once a year rather than every six months. As we heard during committee hearings, a six-month window would likely have become operationally cumbersome for CSC and after reviewing the committee testimony, I agree. I believe that an annual review of the complaint prohibition would be a much more workable provision. In this way it is hoped that the offender would understand the benefits of acting in a positive way and thereby break the cycle of frivolous and vexatious complaints and grievances.
The third provision within Bill C-293 would allow the Governor in Council to make changes to the corrections and conditional release regulations as needed to give further precision to the administration of the vexatious complainant scheme. This is in keeping with the current corrections and conditional release regulations.
I believe that as amended, Bill C-293 is an effective piece of legislation that would help reduce the ongoing abuse of the grievance system by a small handful of inmates. The intent of the vexatious complainant process is not to punish offenders, but rather to hold them accountable for their actions. Bill C-293 would provide Correctional Service of Canada with clear, defined steps that could be taken to end the activities of vexatious complainants. It also would promote accountability by encouraging offenders to use the complaint and grievance process for the purpose for which it was originally intended.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today in the House to my private member's bill and I urge all hon. members of this House to put their full support behind this bill.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 20th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this House to speak to Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants). As the hon. member for Scarborough Centre and sponsor of this bill said, we had the opportunity to study this bill in committee during the last parliamentary session in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Since I am on that committee, I had the opportunity to engage in further discussion with the other members about this bill, which seeks to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The purpose of this bill is to limit access to the complaints and grievance procedure by so-called vexatious inmates in order to reduce the volume of complaints. The way we see it, this measure does not deal with the real problem of the complaints procedure, and we think that the focus should instead be on the source of these vexatious complaints.
We had an opportunity to hear from witnesses who told us about delays affecting the entire complaints system. Those who speak in favour of a fair and timely complaints system said that there are extremely serious delays in the processing of complaints, about six months in most cases. We should consider solutions that truly respond to the problems raised in committee, solutions that would allow reasonable delays for processing grievances and would simplify the procedure, which would enable Correctional Services Canada to save time and resources.
At the April 24 meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator, explained that the Office of the Correctional Investigator was created following a bloody and fatal riot at Kingston penitentiary in 1971. The fact-finding commission set up to look into this incident determined that having no credible system to resolve inmate complaints was one of the main factors that led to the confrontation.
In his 2007-08 annual report, Mr. Sapers again mentioned the long-standing concerns of the Office of the Correctional Investigator regarding Correctional Services Canada's internal grievance system. Over the years, they have reviewed numerous complaints regarding access to the internal complaints and grievance procedure. According to Mr. Sapers, the procedure to file complaints and grievances varies and is seriously lacking in uniformity.
Ashley Smith's story is one of the most tragic examples of the poor handling of complaints. There is in fact a full report that shows how that inmate's death could have been avoided. In it, we can read how, despite the fact that the Correctional Service of Canada rejected her seven complaints about her conditions of incarceration, she tried to improve her situation one final time before her death by putting a complaint in a sealed envelope into the complaints box. Only after Ashley's death was the complaint seen as a priority. The report shows that the seven complaints, which had been considered routine, were in fact priorities.
So we see that we have a problem at the moment with the way in which the system of complaints and grievances in our correctional system is working. Mr. Sapers comes to the conclusion that, if there had been a fair, effective and flexible internal process, it would have been possible to considerably improve the excessively restrictive and dehumanizing conditions imposed on Ms. Smith. He feels that her complaints were rejected for no valid reason. In his report, he also recommends that the Correctional Service of Canada immediately review all cases of prolonged solitary confinement associated with mental health problems, paying specific attention to offenders who have already attempted suicide or who display self-injury tendencies.
In committee, we heard that a number of vexatious complainants tend to have mental health issues. Labelling them vexatious complainants will probably not prevent them from filing complaints, nor will it help them with rehabilitation. So the risk of reoffending increases and public safety suffers.
What we must consider is that the vexatious complainant label will in no way reduce the number of complaints to be dealt with in institutions, and I will explain why. When the administration is presented with a vexatious complaint, it cannot simply ignore it. It still has to be dealt with, categorized and filed. So the time spent in analyzing the complaint will offset the time savings that the designation “vexatious complainant“ is supposed to provide. This bill will result in more work for correctional officers and inflated administrative costs, all for positive outcomes that will be minimal in the extreme.
The Report of External Review of Correctional Service of Canada Offender Complaints and Grievance Process prepared by professor David Mullan, which I mentioned earlier, made 65 recommendations aimed at correcting and simplifying the process. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my question to my colleague opposite, the hon. member for Scarborough Centre, the bill does not take any of that into account. Not one recommendation was included in this bill. Although implementing these recommendations should have been the focus, the Conservatives decided to ignore the advice of the experts and internal and external review committees, which emphasized the importance of creating the positions of mediators and grievance coordinators.
The NDP supports legislative measures that will make our prisons safer and allow them to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner. That is why we are in favour of creating these positions, which would help guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process while reducing the volume of complaints by introducing more informal mechanisms.
Lastly, we understand that for administrative reasons, one year is the preferred timeline for Correctional Service Canada, but we are not convinced that imposing a ban for a full year would be advantageous for the complaints and grievance process. A lot can happen in one year's time. An offender can move or change institutions. His situation can change completely. So, instead of seeing an extension of the length of the ban as a good thing, we believe it could in fact considerably aggravate the situation for the individual in question.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that this bill does absolutely nothing to address the real problem of managing complaints in our prison system. The government needs to take real action, such as taking into account the recommendations of experts like Mr. Mullan and Mr. Sapers, in order to correct a very real, serious problem, to ensure the well-being of CSC employees and complainants, and to prevent terrible things like what happened at Kingston Penitentiary or like the death of Ashley Smith from ever happening again.
That is why I will be voting against this bill. I invite all of my colleagues in the House to have a closer look at this bill and understand why it will not change anything in the existing offender complaints process.
We have a duty as parliamentarians to take into account the opinions of experts. Here in the House, our duty is to pass legislation that is viable, constitutional and fair. Ignoring the advice of experts and the recommendations made to us is simply unacceptable, even irresponsible.
In the beginning of her speech, the hon. member for Scarborough Centre said that changes were necessary. As I have demonstrated, changes are indeed necessary, and all the experts say that changes need to be made now. What we have now is akin to putting a band-aid two feet away from the wound. It is of no use whatsoever. We should take the time to put all this on “pause”, to rewrite a nice little government bill—I urge the government to do so—that will really get to the heart of the problem.
I encourage the Conservative members in particular to think about that. We have an incredible opportunity to do the right thing, and not just for vexatious complainants. We are talking about vexatious complainants, but this is also about taxpayers; we are the ones who keep penitentiaries running. There are also those who work in penitentiaries: Correctional Service Canada officers and all those who handle complaints.
To conclude, it is our duty to pass good legislation in the best interest of all Canadians and it is certainly our duty not to turn a blind eye on such a big problem by pretending that we are fixing it.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 20th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, this has been a very enlightening bill. I personally was not aware of the complaints process that exists inside penitentiaries until we debated this bill and studied it in some depth in committee.
The first comment I would like to make is that the complaints process inside our penitentiaries is not about being soft on crime, coddling criminals or inmates or, using the rhetoric of the government, hugging a thug. I am sure that when people hear there is a complaints process within our penitentiaries, these might be the kinds of images that come to mind, but that is not what the complaints process is all about. I know the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan touched on this in her speech.
The point of a complaints system is to prevent cruel behaviour that could harm inmates. Inmates are in prison not to be harmed; they are there so that society is protected and so that they follow a rehabilitation program and reflect on their actions. The point is that there must be some regard for their welfare even though they are incarcerated.
The complaints system comes out of the violent and deadly riot that took place at Kingston Penitentiary in 1971, during which five correctional officers were taken hostage and brutally tortured. In the end, two prisoners died and 13 others were seriously injured. The damage done to Kingston Penitentiary was severe and shocking, and in the aftermath, a royal commission headed by Justice Swackhamer was established to investigate what had led to the bloody riot. In his report, Justice Swackhamer stated that the lack of adequate attention paid to offender complaints was a contributing factor to the riots and made the following observation:
Grievances of all types are bound to exist among the prison population. Whether those grievances are justified or not, they require to be dealt with so that the order and morale of the institution may be maintained. At present, we heard that such grievances can only be resolved, if at all, when the inmate submits them to the administration. It is clear that the inmate frustrations are created and thrive because the inmates' only avenue of complaint is to the very administration which is frequently the source of its dissatisfaction. It is perfectly evident that at Kingston Penitentiary the total absence of any formula by which such matters could be effectively aired was a factor in the disturbance itself.
The point of a complaints system is very much to keep our correctional officers safe. The job they do is not easy. They obviously work in situations in which they must be vigilant, situations in which there is a certain amount of tension, and problems can occur that can cause physical harm. We have to make sure that correctional officers, who do very good work on behalf of our correctional system, are protected. Therefore, the complaints mechanism is really like a safety valve in many ways.
As Correctional Service Canada itself has said:
Providing offenders with a fair, impartial and expeditious complaint and grievance process...has many benefits. It encourages offenders to deal with issues in a pro-social manner; it empowers them and provides another forum whereby their concerns can be heard and dealt with appropriately. The process can also be used as a monitoring tool to identify trends that are linked to increased tension or discontent among the inmate population.
Bill C-293 seeks to rectify a problem that has arisen over the years. No system is perfect; we know that. When we create a system, after a while we have to re-examine the system to see if we can change it and reform it and make it better to meet changing circumstances. We all understand this as parliamentarians. We come to this place to make laws and institutions better.
Bill C-293 seeks to rectify a problem that has arisen over the years within the inmate complaint system created after the Kingston Penitentiary riot, wherein a very small number of inmates lodged repeated complaints deemed of little or no merit. In other words, these were deemed not to have been made in good faith.
The bill creates in law a category of complainants called a vexatious complainant with the intent of sidelining those complaints to free up the corrections bureaucracy to process more expeditiously what are deemed to be more legitimate prison complaints.
The original version of the bill that we debated at second reading a few months ago stipulated that an inmate designated as a vexatious complainant would be required to provide new supporting information to accompany any subsequent complaints if he or she wished to have those complaints reviewed.
The sweeping changes in the amended version of the bill from committee removes the possibility of the Correctional Service of Canada investigating further complaints, new information notwithstanding, unless the complainant obtains special leave from the commissioner of corrections to have his or her complaint reviewed.
The original bill also stipulated that a plan be developed to assist the offender to break the cycle of complaints. However, perhaps more important, it contained an exception stipulating that a decision-maker could not refuse to hear a complaint that would result in irreparable, significant or adverse consequences to the offender if not resolved. There is no such provision in the amended version of the bill.
The amended bill allows the commissioner to designate an offender as vexatious once the commissioner is satisfied that an offender has persistently submitted complaints or grievances that are frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith. However, like the original version of the bill, the new version does not define the term “vexatious” or “frivolous”, though such a definition does exist in the commissioner's internal directives.
The vagueness of this internal definition has proven persistently problematic for correctional staff. A 2009 CSC audit recognized this problem and recommended that the definition of frivolous and vexatious complaints and grievances in the internal directive be clarified, along with the definition of “high priority”, “urgent” and “sensitive”.
There is also no indication in the original or amended bill as to the number of so-called vexatious or frivolous complaints that will trigger a vexatious complaints designation. The bill appears to leave this threshold entirely up to the discretion of the commissioner.
These open-ended notions of the definition of vexatious complainant and of the frequency of complaints deemed vexatious required for this designation to apply leave the door open to interpretation, which in turn will make it difficult for corrections personnel to confidently implement the legislation.
It will also make it difficult for Canadians to fully understand how this new process will function in a fair and constructive manner while pursuing its main objective, which is to stop the flow of egregious complaints that can burden the corrections system and draw scarce resources within it away from treatment programs that reduce recidivism and lead to safer communities.
If we are to presume a fair and effective complaints system in Canadian penitentiaries, it is vital that the commissioner of corrections in designating a complainant vexatious consider the comments of the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, when he appeared before the public safety committee to comment on the bill:
Bill C-293 sends a wrong message, as it trivializes inmate complaints and it reduces CSC's accountability. Inmate concerns are a unique means to judge the professionalism and the humanity of our Correctional Service. Importantly, what can be viewed as frivolous can be rather significant upon review. What to most people would be very insignificant becomes, because of the nature of prison life, a matter of serious concern to inmates.
Therefore, I hope that in its regulations and directives the government will consider these points and ensure that the process that comes out of this legislation via regulations and directives is one that is fair and effective. I think that would be good for our corrections officers and for society as a whole.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 20th, 2012 / 6 p.m.
Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Bill C-293, which intends to create a category of vexatious complainants in the correctional system's complaints and grievance procedure. This bill amends section 91 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
I would like to quote section 91, which has to do with access to the grievance procedure: “Every offender shall have complete access to the offender grievance procedure without negative consequences.” This section ensures that all inmates in the correctional system have free and equal access to the grievance procedure in the event of problems or threats to their health or safety, for example.
The section is not there by accident. The complaints and grievance procedure in prisons was instituted by a parliamentary subcommittee in the 1970s. At that time, numerous revolts and violent incidents were tainting prisons and making the environment dangerous for everyone—inmates and employees alike. The complaints and grievance procedure was a way to let inmates use something other than violence to express their concerns and resolve their problems.
Today, we are being asked to amend this section that provides inmates with the opportunity to express themselves and to try to deal with a problem or frustrations by a means other than violence. The proposed amendments are as follows:
If the Commissioner is satisfied that an offender has persistently submitted complaints or grievances that are frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, the Commissioner may, in accordance with the prescribed procedures, prohibit an offender from submitting any further complaint or grievance except by leave of the Commissioner.
The general idea is to give the commissioner the discretion to prevent certain complainants from filing grievances. Naturally, not every complainant, but only those who the commissioner deems to be vexatious, in other words those whose complaints are frivolous and not made in good faith.
I would like to re-examine the idea of a frivolous complaint. The member for Scarborough Centre, who introduced this bill, gave an example of a complaint that she considered to be frivolous involving a radio. I will cite the example she mentioned in a previous speech.
...an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked...He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.
For someone unfamiliar with prison life, filing a complaint about a radio may seem frivolous. However, my colleague has overlooked some considerations. First, it is very important to remember that, in a correctional facility, what may seem insignificant, frivolous or vexatious to us may, on the contrary, be very important to the inmates. Some things in life that are not important to us, can be important to inmates.
To overlook this difference in perspective is to oversimplify things in this discussion on grievances and complaints. This type of complaint can also very often conceal other frustrations or problems that the inmates are unable to articulate such as conflicts between inmates, long-standing stress, harassment or problems with depression. In this case, the radio was simply the last straw.
In reality, deeming this example futile or not legitimate is in fact a very simplistic solution. It ignores another latent and perhaps more serious problem or one that urgently needs to be resolved. In this case, an inmate with a more serious latent problem who makes repeated complaints would now have his problem deemed not legitimate and he would be prohibited from filing more complaints. The situation would be unresolved and would worsen, without any escape route for that inmate. This is obviously not the right solution.
In this case, this type of complaint is not necessarily about settling a dispute over a radio, but instead provides information on the more general situation in the institution and with the inmates, about the tensions inside the prison walls or with the staff. If we consider this perspective, it is important to keep the line of communication between institutional management and the inmates open and free.
Actually, according to the 2010-11 annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator: “The offenders complaints and grievance system is an important barometer for gauging the experience of the inmate population.”
We also must bear in mind that 48% of complaints have an extended response time. The time taken to deal with a complaint varies according to its code and coding complaints is a problem as well.
According to the document entitled “Audit of Offender Complaint and Grievance Process, Internal Audit” published by Correctional Service Canada in 2009, 67% of priority complaints were classified as such and only 13% of urgent cases were classified as urgent. What is more, only 64% of harassment complaints were correctly coded.
Making a second complaint, or repeated complaints, about the same subject may be an attempt to attract attention to a problem that is more urgent than it appears, or to a complaint that might have been improperly coded and not handled in a timely fashion. As a result, I stress again that the examples of repeated complaints, or complaints considered to be frivolous, that the hon. member for Scarborough Centre gave in order to justify this bill, do not seem very relevant to me, given all the limitations and different perspectives that it completely ignores.
The hon. member for Scarborough Centre acknowledges that the burden of complaints is very onerous for the prison system and that it is a problem that needs to be solved. I agree with that. But she feels that the bulk of the complaints and grievances comes from a small number of inmates who see writing frivolous complaints as a way to pass the time and that, by forbidding them to file complaints, the problem will be solved.
I am going to quote some examples from the Office of the Correctional Investigator's report for 2010-11:
Correctional Service Canada has reported a noticeable rise in the volume of offender complaints and grievances for the top five subject categories.
Indeed, many of the top grieved subjects correspond to topics and priorities that the Office has reported upon in recent years: general 'hardening' of the conditions of confinement; declining quality of dynamic security and staff-offender interactions; inconsistent quality of and accessibility to health care services; access to programming; restrictions on group privileges and individual rights.
So what I gather from this report is that, according to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the increase in complaints is not a result of frivolous complaints. No, the increase in complaints is rather the result of the inability of recent governments to consider the true priorities in the prison system, priorities that the office has been mentioning in recent years.
The New Democrat members who were on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security when this bill was studied were in favour of creating mediator and grievance coordinator positions in the correctional institutions, a proposal that the Conservatives felt was irrelevant.
I would like to quote another section of the same report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator:
Institutions that retain a Grievance Coordinator for more than one year appear to process complaints and grievances more efficiently and at a higher rate.
Institutional Heads who place a high importance on the Offender Complaint and Grievance Process appear to reflect a higher percentage of resolved complaints/grievances and a lower percentage of overdue complaints.
I would like to mention that the report is available online. Therefore, I would like to advise the member for Scarborough Centre to read it. I would like to close by saying that I will not be supporting this bill because I think it will lead to more violence in the correctional systems and it in no way addresses the true problems underlying the fact that people file repeated complaints.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
February 29th, 2012 / 6:35 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for dispersing the crowd around me so that I could give my second reading speech on Bill C-293. I would like to take this opportunity to say that the Liberal Party will support this bill at second reading. In other words, we will send it to committee so that it can be studied in more detail, mainly because this bill raises some questions for us.
However, before I debate or consider the content of the bill, I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of the Correctional Service of Canada, who are devoted to their mission. Every day, they carry out a task that is not always easy, to say the least, in a very professional manner and in good faith. It is a difficult task. They sometimes have to manage diverse populations within the same correctional institution. They work hard and carry out their duty to the best of their abilities.
A few weeks ago, a number of members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and I had the opportunity to visit two penitentiaries in Kingston—the Collins Bay and Joyceville prisons. We saw that the correctional staff is very concerned about the success and progress of the prisoners and is very proud of the correctional programs.
I would like to mention in passing that, in Canada, we have one of the best correctional programs in the world, to the point where other countries are implementing the programs that we have developed over the years. I am proud to be able to say, further to a question that I asked in committee to a representative of the Correctional Service of Canada, that many of the programs we export today were designed and implemented during Liberal governments.
I like to think that the Liberal Party's approach to justice was able to yield a positive return in this area.
The devotion of the employees working in prisons is clear, as is that of the administrative staff who work in office towers in Ottawa, where the department is headquartered.
Madam Speaker, I wish to say that it is difficult for me to address this issue because there is a lot of noise coming from the other side of the House. I understand of course, but perhaps you could help me in this regard.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
February 29th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON
Madam Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda, and that includes holding offenders accountable and developing a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour.
During our last debate on Bill C-293, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), the NDP member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant was correct when he noted that this bill has a laudable goal. The goal of the bill is to crack down on vexatious complainants, attention seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.
The NDP member was also correct when he stated, “the complaint and grievance process is a tool that helps ensure transparency and accountability”. While the process is valuable, there is still room for improvement. Accountability is a two-way street and prison inmates who file grievances should be held accountable for the complaints that they file.
Bill C-293 would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system. The bill targets a specific group of inmates who file more than 100 grievances per year. The accumulated total of these complaints account for a whopping 15% of all grievances filed, with some cases occurring where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.
The bill would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims. Someone designated as a vexatious complainant would have his or her complaint shut down after the first of four levels of the grievance process if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith.
I am certain that Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.
Bill C-293 is important to Canadians for the following reasons: One, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Two, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. Three, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens and this means supporting the real victims of crime. Four, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on real rehabilitation. Five, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process.
The benefits of Bill C-293 are obvious. I must say that I am very pleased to hear that the members of the Liberal Party, hon. colleagues of mine, will be supporting sending this bill to committee.
I would like to state the specific reason Bill C-293 is a benefit. The correctional system would no longer require correctional staff to process large volumes of complaints without merit. This would mean that the correctional system with respect to the complaint process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to by focusing on legitimate complaints.
Ultimately, Bill C-293 would correct a costly loophole in our correctional system which would be a benefit to all Canadian taxpayers. In the last debate on Bill C-293, my hon. colleague from the NDP stated, “The NDP supports legislation that will make our prisons safer. We also support legislation that will allow our prisons to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner”.
If that is the case, then I am sure the official opposition, the NDP, will vote with our government and the Liberal Party of Canada in support of the bill.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
December 1st, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.
Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON
moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda. That includes holding offenders accountable and building a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. That is why I am particularly pleased to rise today to talk about this important piece of legislation that will help complete part of that task, a task which Canadians have sent us here to do.
My private members bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants),, would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system.
Correctional Service of Canada receives approximately 29,000 grievances a year from various offenders. Out of a total of approximately 23,000 offenders in CSC custody, a small group of approximately 20 offenders file more than 100 grievances per year. This accounts for a whopping 15% of all complaints filed. In fact, there are even a few cases where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.
The increased volume of frivolous complaints significantly delays the process for other inmates to have actual legitimate concerns addressed. High complaint volume also ties up resources and has become taxing on our hard-working, front line correctional officers.
Bill C-293 would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada to label an offender as a vexatious complainant when the offender submits multiple complaints or grievances that are of a vexatious or frivolous nature or not made in good faith. The bill would enable CSC to minimize the impact of those who file such grievances and it would ensure that the grievance process maintains the integrity to accomplish its intended goals.
I will explain for my colleagues the fair grievance process we currently have here in Canada. Currently there are four levels through which a complaint may progress. Complaints may be resolved at any stage. However, it is the inmates who get to determine if they are satisfied with the outcome of the decisions made by a warden or regional deputy commissioner.
The first level in the grievance process is called the complaint level. A prisoner fills out paperwork at the institution, which is then reviewed by the department or section manager and, if unresolved, makes its way to the warden. For high priority cases, the file will be reviewed within 15 working days or in 25 days for routine priority files.
CSC distinguishes high priority complaints and grievances as those that have a direct effect on life, liberty or security of the person, or that relate to the griever's access to the complaints or grievance process. Once reviewed, a decision will be made by the warden who will either approve, approve in part, or deny the inmate's claim. Should the prisoner be unhappy with the decision, the prisoner has the right to appeal.
Grievances at the complaint level can be an extensive process. Documents are filled out by the offenders and placed in mail boxes. Submissions are collected by a grievance coordinator who assesses and assigns it to a department. The complaint will then be logged into the computer system.
Next, the individual responsible for the area of the complaint will seek out more information and may interview staff or the offenders as required. The complainant will then receive a formal response from the institution. The status of a file will be noted in the computer system, depending if the offender believes that the complaint has been resolved.
It is important to note that offenders can request an interview at any time during this process. This can quickly increase the processing times of complaints due to staff and scheduling constraints.
Complaint processing initially occurs at the lowest level possible, which means that this whole process can cascade three times from the individual involved, the department or section manager and then to the warden.
While every effort is made to resolve an offender's grievance, it is apparent that the complaint level of the grievance process requires a great deal of resources to properly administer. Many institutions will also provide offenders the opportunity to be hired as inmate grievance clerks. These offenders are interviews and, if hired, will be provided the appropriate training and education.
Inmate grievance clerks play a role in reducing the number of complaints as they are attempting to resolve the situation without resorting to the formal grievance process.
CSC deals with hundreds of complaints per day which are dealt with by this very informal manner. This is a useful tool for standard grievances. However, dealing with these situations informally is not always enough for some offenders who make it a hobby of filing complaints.
The second level of the grievance process occurs at the regional level. CSC has five regions and the files from the first complaint level are sent to the appropriate regional office. The regional deputy commissioner will review the files and in the same timeframe as the initial complaint level. Once again, if unhappy, the prisoner is granted the opportunity to appeal.
At the next stage, level three, the senior regional deputy commissioner will review the prisoner's grievance. This person must now assess the original grievance and additionally consider the responses provided by the institution warden and the regional deputy commissioner. Due to the increased volume of documents, the review times at this stage are 60 working days for high priority and 80 days for routine priority files. Again, if unsatisfied with the decision of the senior regional deputy commissioner, the inmate may appeal, which moves the claim to the fourth and final stage.
It is important to note that, up until this point, grievances can be in the system up to 150 working days. If appealed, the level four grievance means the prisoner's claim will be sent to the commissioner of CSC. At this stage, grievances will again be approved, approved in part or wholly declined. This is a much shorter review timeframe since the commissioner's office will receive summaries from all other levels to assist in making the final decision. Furthermore, the timeframe is much shorter because the commissioner's office has a greater number of staff and expertise as its disposal.
It is important to also note that, throughout the entire grievance process, prisoners may also approach federal courts, the office of the correctional investigator and tribunals as methods for addressing their complaints. These other avenues for addressing grievances require that the offender has exhausted the complaint process currently available in their own facility.
This process is generous, extensive and provides three opportunities for an inmate to accept solutions to his or her complaints. The current system does not prevent all inmates from filing frivolous grievances and, as such, prevents the necessary jurisprudence to allow CSC personnel to do their jobs appropriately and efficiently.
The current legislation is not as efficient and fiscally responsible as law-abiding Canadians deserve and expect it to be.
How does the current process fail us? I will explain this in six brief points. First, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Section 90 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states:
There shall be a procedure for fairly and expeditiously resolving offenders’ grievances on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner....
A system required to process all claims regardless of merit diminishes the fair and quick resolution of legitimate complaints.
I am certain that by amending section 91, the labelling of vexatious complainants, it would improve offender access to section 90, fair and timely resolution, of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is central to the purpose of this bill.
Second, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. An incredible amount of resources and tax dollars are wasted when inmates are able to control a system that moves through four reviews and up to 150 days of processing time.
Third, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Proceeding through the correctional system with a sense of victimization is a problem. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens, and this means supporting those who are the real victims of crime.
Fourth, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on their rehabilitation. Inmates should be focused on their correctional plan, the end result of which will mean their more effective reintegration into society. Making a hobby of filing meritless grievances makes a mockery of our correctional system and the entire grievance process.
Fifth, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process. The knowledge that inmates are continuously filing grievances to cause trouble is not helpful to the morale of staff. On my recent visit to a prison, front line prison staff expressed the challenges of spending large amounts of time processing meritless complaints, especially when offenders choose not to seek resolution through informal channels.
Finally, the current system is too generous when it comes to the initiation of grievances. Inmates are attempting to manipulate a fair correctional system. Prisoners are in jail for one reason and that is to pay their debts to society. This certainly does not include bogging down the system with undue administrative hardships. It is evident that vexatious complainants are attention-seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.
Do members know that offenders are currently permitted by law to file a second complaint while a first is already in process? Often this second complaint will be an exact duplicate of the first. Offenders may do this because they are displeased with an initial response or they may not believe that their matter is being addressed in a timely fashion.
One particular example of this was an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked. He filed a complaint and while this grievance was in process he began to work through claims against the crown process as well. He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.
When corrections staff attempt to resolve inmate issues in a timely manner, offenders should not be breathing down their necks for an answer or bogging down the system. Solutions take time and this procedure should be respected.
CSC staff noted that the offender saw the grievance process as a game and was determined to take advantage of it. It is important to note that staff feel the complaint process is an extremely important and useful tool but only when it is used for legitimate complaints.
As I said, our government believes in delivering a correctional service that actually corrects. There are key programs with CSC that have a real impact in the effective rehabilitation of inmates, for example, CORCAN. CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of Correctional Service of Canada. CORCAN's mission is to aid in the safe reintegration of prisoners into society while providing employment and employability skills training to offenders incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and sometimes even after they are released back into the community.
Inmates who co-operate within the system also have access to an adult basic education program. This program offers inmates the opportunity to pursue a grade 12 education and is available year round in Canadian correctional institutions. This program is offered to offenders who have education in their correctional plan or who require upgrading in skills as a requirement for either continuing education or reintegration programs.
Correctional plans are professionally developed and implemented documents that outline an inmate's needs and what he or she needs to do to become responsible and accountable individuals in society. Under Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, these correctional plans would play an even more fundamental role in the way inmate rehabilitation is structured. As they pay their debts, these are the efforts inmates ought to be taking for reintegration into society. It is important to realize also that these programs come at a substantial cost to taxpayers and should not be taken lightly.
What are the exact changes proposed in my Bill C-293? In simple terms, the bill would allow the commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims.
Additionally, someone designed as a vexatious complainant could have his or her complaint shut down in the initial stage if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith. Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.
Who exactly would benefit from the bill? Vexatious complainants themselves would benefit from the bill. They would be held accountable by focusing more attention on paying their debts to society. Their time will be better spent completing their correctional plan. This bill would work within the existing process to ensure prisoners are learning responsibility for their actions. Continuous complaining is counterproductive to those goals.
Taxpayers would benefit from a system that no longer forces correctional staff to process large volumes of meritless complaints, resulting in better use of tax dollars.
Correctional staff would also benefit. They would be freed from processing claims made in bad faith.
Our existing system would benefit. The existing grievance process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to. It would be able to resolve grievances in the way that it was intended to and actually focus on legitimate complaints.
By cracking down on vexatious complainants, Bill C-293 would help to make offenders more accountable, ensure greater respect for taxpayers and take the unnecessary burden off hard-working front line correctional officers.
I hope that all hon. members will support this legislation.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
December 1st, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member for Scarborough Centre has introduced Bill C-293 to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This bill has two objectives: first, to deal with offenders who make vexatious, frivolous or multiple complaints; second, to reduce the number of complaints handled by the corrections administration.
The NDP supports legislation that will make our prisons safer. We also support legislation that will allow our prisons to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner. However, we are particularly concerned about the impact that this bill could have on prison management in Canada.
This bill will give disproportionate discretion to the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada. With this power, and based on his own opinion, the commissioner will be able to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant. Decision-makers, such as penitentiary wardens, can refuse to hear the complaint of such an inmate if they consider the complaint to be vexatious or frivolous. With Bill C-10, the inmate population will increase significantly, which will result in more complaints.
It is unacceptable to grant discretionary power to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant without placing limits on this power by establishing clear criteria that will make the decision transparent and fair to all inmates. It is important to establish clear criteria because the concept of a vexatious complaint is problematic given that it is based on completely subjective factors.
How can we ensure that every decision by the commissioner to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant will be just and fair to all inmates if there are no clear criteria for making a decision that is informed and, above all, fair to all inmates?
In light of the fact that the simplest things in life are very important in a correctional institution, this difference of opinion makes the designation of a vexatious complaint a complicated matter. For that reason, a decision about vexatious complaints is subjective and biased and requires clear criteria to guide the commissioner's decision-making.
When the inmate is designated as a vexatious complainant, he will have to prove the merits of every new complaint with additional material. The material required will be at the discretion of the commissioner. Once again, there is no formal process to select the material; it is left to the discretion of the commissioner. This does not legitimize the process or make it any more credible in the eyes of inmates. This request for additional material could serve to deter inmates from filing complaints because of the red tape involved.
Furthermore, by compelling inmates to prove the merits of their complaint, the burden of proof is being reversed, which goes against our justice system. This bill creates a presumption of bad faith for all complaints filed by certain complainants, despite the fact that some of the complaints could be completely justified.
The problem of vexatious complainants cannot be generalized, as the Conservatives would have us believe. Many inmates who file vexatious complaints have mental health problems or have little education. The number of vexatious complainants who want to attack the administration or the complaints process is pretty small. What is interesting is that the complaints process can be used to identify these kinds of people, but by denying them access to the complaints and grievance process, we will be unable to identify them and therefore unable to help them. Many vexatious complaints are not entirely vexatious. In many cases, one part of the complaint is completely legitimate and, as a result, we cannot completely write off the complaint.
The designation of vexatious complainant will in no way reduce the volume of complaints to be addressed in institutions. When the administration receives a vexatious complainant, it will not be able to simply ignore it. The complaint will still need to be processed, coded and classified. Accordingly, the time devoted to analyzing the complaint will cancel out any time that is supposedly saved by creating a vexatious complainant designation.
Although it is possible for inmates to have a judicial review, the reality is a different story. There is an internal process to go through before the inmate has access to a judicial review. However, the internal process can take months or even years, which essentially blocks their access to a judicial review.
I should note that the complaint process was created after a number of prison revolts in the mid-1970s.
In an attempt to reduce violence resulting from prisoner discontent, a parliamentary subcommittee created a complaint and grievance process. This resulted in a fairer system for inmates, which meant that they could be heard. The objective of the complaint process is to use a constructive process to channel the frustrations of inmates. Limiting access to the complaint process will likely push inmates to use more violent ways of expressing their frustration and discontent. This is a matter of security for all inmates and prison workers.
The NDP is sensitive to issues dealing with rights and freedoms, and the Supreme Court has ruled on the fact that incarcerated individuals do not lose their rights. Furthermore, section 4(e) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states “that offenders retain the rights and privileges of all members of society, except those rights and privileges that are necessarily removed or restricted as a consequence of the sentence”.
We therefore believe that the complaint and grievance process is a tool that helps ensure transparency and accountability. It shows that some corrections policies are ineffective and that there are problems in Canadian prisons. As a result of the measures proposed by omnibus Bill C-10, the prison population will no doubt grow rapidly, which will lead to major problems in terms of prison management. The government should therefore focus its efforts on increasing the correctional investigator's capacity to investigate so that he can quickly identify the problems in prisons. Instead, the Conservative government is using this bill to try to limit his capacity. In my opinion, the Conservatives do not want us to see just how much worse their policies will make the situation in our prisons. I do not think that they want us to be able to measure the negative impact that these policies will have on prisons.
We also believe that the number of complaints is a problem. However, we do not believe that reducing access to the complaint and grievance process is the solution. This new bill will reduce the safety of inmates, guards and other prison staff. We also believe that the most effective way to guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of complaints, is to create mediator and complaints coordinator positions. The Conservatives ignored all the recommendations of the experts and internal and external review committees. Many of them mentioned the importance of establishing these types of positions, which would allow prisons to maintain an open-access complaint and grievance process while reducing the volume of formal complaints through informal resolution. Our approach is supported by many stakeholders in the corrections field, including the John Howard Society and many correctional law and criminology experts.
To summarize, the bill will give disproportionate and unbridled discretion to the commissioner making it possible to have the inmate designated as a vexatious complainant. Set criteria for decision-making must be established so that decisions are not made in a subjective and biased manner. I find it quite unreasonable to make the administrative process more cumbersome and to discourage inmates from complaining.
Is the government trying to muzzle inmates who would like to shed light on prison problems?
The changes that the Conservatives would like to make to the complaint process are contrary to the principles of our judicial system because they would reverse the burden of proof. The internal process mechanism would limit access to judicial review for inmates. That is completely unacceptable. Access to judicial review is a basic principle of our judicial system.
The complaints and grievances process was instituted to channel inmates' frustrations and discontent and to deter them from using violence to express their dissatisfaction. The process was also established as a tool for ensuring transparency and accountability when identifying problems in our prisons. This is a vital tool that allows correctional investigators to carry out their work in an appropriate manner.
I will repeat, the government does not want us to discover that its prison policies are ineffective and exacerbate existing problems. The government does not want to be accountable for these problems.
Finally, I would like to point out that the government is trying to depict prisoners as a group of complainers whose complaints are not justified. As I explained previously, the picture of inmates painted by the Conservatives bears little resemblance to the reality.
For these reasons the NDP cannot support this bill. We are opposed to the bill not only because it limits the government's accountability with respect to prisons, but also because it will reduce the safety of guards, workers and inmates in the correctional system.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
December 1st, 2011 / 6:10 p.m.
Candice Bergen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support, with amendments, Bill C-293, which was brought forward by the member for Scarborough Centre. I would like to begin by commending and congratulating my colleague for introducing legislation that would help the Correctional Service Canada meet its legal obligations to resolve inmate grievances in the most effective way possible. Our Conservative government supports this important bill and to that end we will introduce some minor amendments to strengthen the bill at committee stage.
Canadians find it utterly unacceptable that offenders can make it their hobby to file frivolous grievances on the taxpayers' dime, while they are supposed to be engaged in rehabilitation. Let me be clear. All offenders have the right to a fair and expeditious complaint and grievance process. This process is to be made available to every offender without negative consequences. However, that is not to say that offenders should have carte blanche to submit endless and needless paperwork.
The system is set up in a four-level process, from a complaint at the institutional level to a grievance at the national level. Bill C-293 would not change those rights. All offenders will continue to have complete access to a fair and expeditious grievance process. The issue at hand is that there are certain offenders who take advantage of their rights to a fair grievance procedure by clogging up the complaints system with hundreds of frivolous or vexatious complaints and grievances each year.
What do I mean by complaints that are deemed frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith? These are complaints that are submitted with no serious purpose, complaints that are submitted for the sole purpose of harassing officials or to simply cause a disruption. In some instances, offenders will submit the same frivolous or vexatious complaint over and over again, just because they can. We know there are a handful of offenders in our federal prisons right now that account for 15% of all complaints and grievances filed in one year. Some submit as many as 500 to 600 complaints per year.
In light of the volume of grievances that are not made in good faith or are frivolous or vexatious in nature, it is not surprising that this creates a huge challenge for corrections officers to address the legitimate complaints of other offenders.
While there is already a system in place to manage offenders who submit high volumes of grievances, it does not address the root of the problem, that of making offenders accountable for their actions. The bill before us would right this wrong and it would ensure that offenders would not be abusing the benefits afforded to them through a fair complaint process. It proposes several things.
First and foremost, Bill C-293 proposes to give the commissioner of the CSC the authority to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. In practice, this means that the commissioner will have the power to determine, based on a thorough review of the offender's history of complaints, that he or she is deserving of the label a vexatious complainant. This is similar to the process already in place for litigants who abuse our court system.
The bill also proposes that once offenders have been designated as vexatious complainants, they are then obligated to provide additional material to CSC to back up each complaint that they submit. It will allow CSC to refuse to review a grievance that is frivolous, vexatious, or not made in good faith unless the grievance would result in irreparable, significant or adverse consequences to the offender.
The bill is a positive step toward our goal of rebalancing the grievance system and to reducing the burden imposed by offenders who abuse that system. However, our government believes that we should go a step further to put more emphasis on offender accountability. To that end, when the bill proceeds to committee stage, we will propose key amendments that will ensure that offenders who are designated vexatious complainants are no longer able to create delays in the grievance system and affect other offenders access to the process.
Bill C-293 makes an important change by allowing the commissioner of CSC to designate some offenders as vexatious complainants. However, as it currently stands, these offenders would still be able to continue further grievances without first seeking permission from CSC. Furthermore, asking vexatious complainants to provide additional material in support of their grievance would only add to CSC's administrative burden.
We propose to amend this to allow the commissioner of the CSC to order that a vexatious complainant no longer be allowed to submit any complaints or grievances without first receiving the permission of the warden. In effect, that would stop the complaint at the institutional level, rather than allow the possibility of having every new grievance submitted by the vexatious complainant land on the commissioner's desk.
Second, the current bill states that the commissioner of the CSC must conduct a review and a reassessment of the offender's vexatious status every six months. We believe this would prove unwieldy and cumbersome to the commissioner who would be forced to review the offender's status twice a year. Our amendment would change this to make the review annual, which is a much more reasonable timeframe.
Third, Bill C-293 stipulates that the commissioner of CSC must carry out each decision personally as it does not allow for this power to be delegated. Surely it is only reasonable to give the commissioner of the CSC the authority to designate someone to take on this responsibility when needed.
Together, these amendment would help strengthen the bill and would ensure that offenders would be held accountable for their actions, including facing a consequence for their behaviour that is both disruptive and disrespectful.
Our government has been very clear. We are committed to move ahead with measures that will create a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. We make no apologies for ensuring that offenders are held accountable for their actions. That includes both the offences that landed them in prison and the actions they take while serving their sentence. It is particularly troubling to hear stories of offenders who, instead of focusing on their own rehabilitation, are abusing the system by lodging frivolous or vexatious complaints and grievances.
Our government is fully supportive of providing the appropriate rehabilitative measures to offenders. We are also committed to putting measures in place to increase offender accountability and ensure that offenders are playing a full role in their rehabilitation.
What we will not tolerate is a small group of offenders being allowed to bog down our corrections system by piling on complaint after complaint, sometimes to the level of 500 to 600 complaints per year, for no other reason than they are wanting to abuse the system. This is unacceptable. It must change and I am very glad that my colleague has brought the bill forward to make changes in this area.
Over the past several years, the Correctional Service Canada has been working hard to address the challenges that our institutions face when dealing with offenders who clog up the system with a high volume of grievances that are of no consequence to the rights, health or safety of that offender.
We believe that, as amended, Bill C-293 will go a long way toward helping address these issues to reduce administrative workload and to ensure that all legitimate offender grievances can be dealt with in a fair and expeditious manner. Therefore, I call on all members of the House to support this very important bill.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
December 1st, 2011 / 6:20 p.m.
Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB
Mr. Speaker, I find Bill C-293 both puzzling and troubling. Contrary to what the previous member suggested, the bill does not right a wrong. If enacted, it will pave the way potentially for far greater wrongs. I need only quote from the renowned Justice Louise Arbour, who said, in dealing with previous concerns regarding the treatment of prisoners:
One must resist the temptation to trivialize the infringement of prisoners' rights as either an insignificant infringement of rights, or as an infringement of the rights of people who do not deserve any better. When a right has been granted by law, it is no less important that such right be respected because the person entitled to it is a prisoner.
One would presume that these amendments came forward in response to the recommendations of the federal Correctional Investigator. The federal Correctional Investigator came forward with strong recommendations as a result of the very tragic case of Ashley Smith.
What were the facts in the case of Ashley Smith? Fourteen-year-old Ashley Smith was put in prison because she threw crab apples at a postman and she was shunted from institution to institution. Because it appeared she was under stress and had some mental health problems, she was violating certain rules in the prison. As a result, she went from solitary confinement, then to prison and to another prison. In the end, the sad case of Ashley Smith was that the prison officer sat and watched her die from self-strangulation. As a result of the tragic death of this young women and the failure of the prison guards to protect her interests, there were a number of investigations.
One of the investigations was by the federal Correctional Investigator. One thing he found was that her final grievance remained in the prison grievance box two and a half months after her death. Today we hear that there are inappropriate administrative duties on prison officers. There actually are corrections officer rules that require that box be emptied every day.
What was the nature of Ashley's complaints filed as grievances? The Correctional Investigator quoted a number of them, which I do not have time to go into. However, in his report the investigator found that there was improper designation of her grievances. They were found to be insignificant when he found that they were in fact serious. There was a failure to provide written responses as required by the prison directives. There was a failure to discuss her complaints with her and the responses were prepared well after she was transferred to other institutions. All of her complaints were responded to in an inappropriate way and not compliant with corrections policy.
Despite the heightened duty of vigilance due to her condition of confinement, there was a failure to observe her basic human rights. This was a tragic and avoidable death and the investigator made a number of recommendations. He recommended, contrary to what the hon. member has tabled, the following:
I recommend that all grievances related to the conditions of confinement or treatment in segregation be referred as a priority to the institutional head and be immediately addressed.
I recommend, once again, that the Correctional Service immediately commission an external review of its operations and policies in the area of inmate grievances to ensure fair and expeditious resolution of offenders' complaints and grievances at all levels of the process.
What do we find in the bill here? How does this bill respond to what the Correctional Investigator found? He found that corrections institutions were failing immeasurably in honouring the basic right of considering the grievances. This bill has the opposite effect.
This bill, contrary to due process, gives complete discretion to the regional deputy commissioner or the commissioner or any delegate. In other words, it could be totally within the discretion of any corrections officer to designate somebody as a vexatious prisoner. There are no criteria, there is no process, and in fact the commissioner, or the person making the designation, does not even have to inform the prisoner in writing until after the designation is made.
There is some reference to having a conversation with the prisoner about the process. This is a complete violation of due process. We live in a country of due process. That is how we are made. That is why we are honoured to be a member of the United Nations: we operate by the rule of law and due process. That means we follow basic principles.
This bill violates all of those principles.
Then the prisoner is going to be denied, potentially for a whole year, even the opportunity to raise any kind of grievance. Again, let us remember that we are including the rising numbers of prisoners who are suffering from mental health issues, as documented by the corrections investigator and a number of officials. As a result, there is a high probability that in this process, anybody in the prison could designate somebody with a significant mental health issue, and they will be silenced.
What is the solution? What is the redress for this prisoner? Well, the prisoner can go to court--this from the very government that criticizes us all the time over the possibility that we might table bills that might be litigious. This is the very government that castigated me for daring to table an environmental bill of rights that would simply have allowed Canadians the right to go to court if the government failed to be transparent, open and participatory.
As for the right to go to court, these are prisoners who have been denied the ability to even file a grievance, and we are supposed to believe that they are going to be given access to the courts. As my colleague on this side of the House suggested after the bill was first presented, why is there not a more reasonable mechanism? Why is there not an independent mediator within the prison system, who could come in the same way that many independent people do to make sure prisoners are being treated appropriately? Why not consider some other kind of mechanism?
I hope the member who tabled this bill will give serious consideration, if her bill proceeds, to sending it to committee to be measurably amended, so that at least the government, if it sides with this bill, will show that it is siding with due process of law and human rights.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
September 28th, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants).
Mr. Speaker, I proudly rise in the House today to introduce Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants).
Correctional Service Canada, CSC, receives thousands of complaints per year from offenders. A small group of convicts accounts for about 15% of the complaints that are filed. My bill seeks to address those inmates who have made a hobby of issuing complaints, who have abused the grievance process and who waste correctional institution resources by filing numerous complaints that are vexatious or frivolous in nature.
The changes contained within this bill transcend all political parties in this House, and I sincerely hope that all members will support it.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)